Reassessing associations between white matter and behaviour with multimodal microstructural imaging

A. Lazari*, P. Salvan, M. Cottaar, D. Papp, Olof Jens van der Werf, A. Johnstone, Z.B. Sanders, C. Sampaio-Baptista, N. Eichert, K. Miyamoto, A. Winkler, M.F. Callaghan, T.E. Nichols, C.J. Stagg, M.F.S. Rushworth, L. Verhagen, H. Johansen-Berg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Several studies have established specific relationships between White Matter (WM) and behaviour. However, these studies have typically focussed on fractional anisotropy (FA), a neuroimaging metric that is sensitive to multiple tissue properties, making it difficult to identify what biological aspects of WM may drive such relationships. Here, we carry out a pre-registered assessment of WM-behaviour relationships in 50 healthy individuals across multiple behavioural and anatomical domains, and complementing FA with myelin sensitive quantitative MR modalities (MT, R1, R2*). Surprisingly, we only find support for predicted relationships between FA and behaviour in one of three pre-registered tests. For one behavioural domain, where we failed to detect an FA-behaviour correlation, we instead find evidence for a correlation between behaviour and R1. This hints that multimodal approaches are able to identify a wider range of WM-behaviour relationships than focusing on FA alone. To test whether a common biological substrate such as myelin underlies WM-behaviour relationships, we then ran joint multimodal analyses, combining across all MRI parameters considered. No significant multimodal signatures were found and power analyses suggested that sample sizes of 40-200 may be required to detect such joint multimodal effects, depending on the task being considered. These results demonstrate that FA-behaviour relationships from the literature can be replicated, but may not be easily generalisable across domains. Instead, multimodal microstructural imaging may be best placed to detect a wider range of WM-behaviour relationships, as different MRI modalities provide distinct biological sensitivities. Our findings highlight a broad heterogeneity in WM's relationship with behaviour, suggesting that variable biological effects may be shaping their interaction. (c) 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-200
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Multimodal imaging
  • Microstructural imaging
  • White matter
  • Bimanual coordination
  • Cognitive control
  • Myelin
  • MR
  • IRON
  • GRAY

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